Historically, the native American pecan nut tree was one of the most significant plant discoveries that positively influenced U.S. agriculture and commercial food production to provide a nut product, highly nutritious, inexpensive to produce, and with a delicate distinctive flavor, unrivaled by any other nut. The pecan nut was well known by the early American Indian tribes as a food source for the American Indian families, and the Indian hunters knew that during the fall and winter, when the pecan nuts fell to the ground, this collectible food source also attracted hungry wildlife, such as duck, deer, squirrels, and a host of other animals that were hunted and eaten by the Indians. Although the pecan nut tree is native to the flood plains along the Mississippi River, and normally did not occur as a native tree in the Eastern United States, the American Indians soon learned that seedling (wild) pecan nuts would sprout and form bearing trees, when they explored and visited tribes further East. There are gigantic notable seedling trees of pecan that presumably were planted by the American Indians that today are hundreds of years old, predating the arrival of the early American pioneers. Archaeological excavations from Baker’s Cave, near Val Verde County, Texas, reveal that pecan nuts and pecan leaves were discovered in association with human relics that date to at least 3000 B.C., and perhaps as old as 6000 B.C. This American archaeological evidence strongly suggests that the pecan nut was one of nature’s earliest sources of recorded food use by Native Americans Indians. – that may even predate recorded food use by Europe, Asia, or even at the ancient Egyptian pyramids.
Early American historical records show that pecan nut trees were offered for sale at America’s first nursery that was established in Flushing, New York, in 1737, by the founder, Robert Prince. It is well known that General George Washington visited this nursery, and that the famous explorers, Lewis and Clark, brought back seed and collected plants from their Western explorations, to supply future shrubs and trees to the Prince Nursery in New York.
John Bartram, an associate of Benjamin Franklin, both from Philadelphia, Penn., collected pecan nut trees for their personal nut and fruit tree orchards. The famous American explorer and botanist, William Bartram, son of John Bartram, set out in 1773, financed by English noblemen, to collect plants and to write a book, Travels, concerning the native trees and plants, and to research the habitat of the American Indians in the abandoned territories of the Spaniards, after Spain was defeated by the English warships. In William Bartram’s book, Travels, he noted, page 437, that two large pecan nut trees were observed by him to be growing in a garden at Mobile, Alabama. Bartram in his Travels book also wrote prolifically about various other nuts and nut trees such as chestnut trees native to America. Castanea, Hiccory” (Hickory Trees), Juglans exaltata” (Hazelnut American), Corylus, also named the American filbert, Juglans hickory” (Black Walnut), Juglans nigra.”
President Thomas Jefferson was an important promoter and planter of agricultural crops, plants, shrubs, and trees. When Thomas Jefferson was appointed as the chief American representative in France, he understood that to become a good nation, the young American republic must research and develop colonial agriculture. Thomas Jefferson introduced many at the time unknown crops in the United States, such as grains, vegetables, fruit trees, berry bushes, nut trees, grapevines, and a host of perennial bushes, trees, and flower bulbs. Not only did President Thomas Jefferson develop his personal garden and orchard, but he arranged for shipments to be received by colonists and planters along the Eastern Seaboard. President Jefferson created much good will in European capitals by supplying them with exports of tobacco seed, citrus trees, American native nut trees, and native grapevines such as the muscadine and scuppernong grape vines.
Jefferson left extensive records in writings of his from the State of Virginia: Note on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson 1787, #VI, A recognize of the mines and other subterranean riches; its trees, plants, fruit, etc.” Thomas Jefferson noted that in his orchard he had planted pecan trees, Carya illinoinensis.
It is very interesting that Thomas Jefferson referred to the pecan, Carya illinoinensis, as Paccan, or Illinois nut. Not described by Linnaeus Millar or Clayton. Were I to venture to describe this speaking of the fruit from memory, and of the leaf from plants of two years growth, I should specify it as the Juglans alba, foliolis lanceolatis, acuminatis, serratis, tomentosis, fructu minore, ovato, compresso, vix insculpto, dulci, putamine, tenerrimo. It grows on the on the Illinois, Wabash, Ohio, and Mississippi. It is spoken of by Don Ulloa under the name of Pacanos, in his Noticias Americanas. Entret. 6.”
Jefferson referenced Dr. Clayton of Virginia as our good botanist whose published book, Flora Virginiea, by Gronovius press at Leyden in the yr 1762.” Thomas Jefferson praised Dr. Clayton as spending his life describing and exploring plants. Dr Clayton enlarged the botanical catalog almost as much as any man that had lived, including Linaeus.”
Thomas Jefferson had a good interest in other nuts and nut trees besides the pecan nut trees, Carya illinoinensis, that he recorded.
Black walnut, Juglans nigra, White walnut, Juglans alba, Chestnut, Fagus cestaneas, Chinquapin, Fagus pumila, Hazlenut, Corylus avellana, almonds.”
Scaly bark hiccory, Juglans alba cortice squamose, Clayton, widely seen hiccory, Juglans alba, fructu minore rancido, Clayton.”
A few good American forefathers had a permanent influence on the development of nut tree commerce enriching the farmers and the world of agriculture. The names of Robert Prince, Benjamin Franklin, Lewis and Clark, George Washington, John and William Bartram, and Thomas Jefferson, reside in the annals of agricultural fame of the United States.